Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 green gift roundup

Happy New Year! It's time once again for what appears to have become an annual tradition on this blog: the list of ecofrugal gifts we gave and received this year, and how they were received.

Two of our most ecofrugal presents of 2012 were books. My mother-in-law got a hardbound collection of three novels by Golden Age mystery writer Josephine Tey, which we picked up for a song at our local thrift shop. She must have liked it, since she told us she stayed up past her bedtime reading it. My mom also got a mystery book for Hanukkah—a paperback collection of short stories called The English Country House Murders, which we picked up at last September's yard sales. (Not sure how she liked it, since my guess is that she hasn't had a chance to read it yet.)

A small gift we gave to my father-in-law was a metal canister (another yard sale find) that's a replica of the old Quaker Oats can—complete with the original version of the oatmeal cookie recipe on the back. Brian's family used to make cookies from this recipe all the time, until one day they followed the recipe on the can and discovered that the cookies tasted different. At some point, the recipe had changed. (Fortunately, they were able to go downstairs and dig through the old oatmeal cans being used to store items in the basement and find one that had the original recipe on it.) To make this gift complete, Brian made a batch of the cookies and filled up the canister with them. I assume his dad liked them, since his reaction upon tasting one was to say, "Nope, these aren't good—you all shouldn't eat any of them." :-)

One present that we were a little concerned about was the set of old-fashioned letter blocks (also from a yard sale) that we gave to our three-year-old nephew. He had already opened several presents, some of them quite fancy, by the time he got to ours, and we were both thinking, "Uh oh, is this gift too babyish for him?" But as soon as he opened the container, he shouted, "Blocks!" and started picking them up and happily identifying the letters and objects on them. I guess good toys are timeless. (As Brian pointed out, he'd quite enjoyed playing with the blocks at home himself, and he's only 42.)

We also gave one gift that was for all the Midwest nieces and nephews to share: a marble run toy, similar to this one but even more elaborate, with loops and ramps that drop the ball from level to level. We got this on Freecycle and figured it would be just an "extra" present that we'd show to the kids after the gift-giving was done, rather than putting it under the tree. Turns out all the kids, aged three to eight, enjoyed playing with it—as did the teenaged German student who was staying with my sister-in-law's family. So this was definitely a successful gift for all concerned (including us, since the kids played with it in relative quiet for an hour or so).

Some of our ecofrugal gifts were little stocking stuffers. My mother-in-law's stocking included a paper bead necklace (kind of like this one), which counts as doubly green because it's both recycled and Fair Trade. She was sporting it at an open house she hosted  the following Friday, so again, it looks like that gift was a success. We also gave each couple a folding tote bag from IKEA, which is a really handy item to have if you're trying to reduce your use of disposable shopping bags. It's easy to keep some cloth bags on hand for shopping trips, but it's also easy to leave them behind when you're out on foot or making a quick, unplanned stop for just one or two items. The folding totes can live permanently in a purse or coat pocket, so you're never caught short without a bag.

My sister's Hanukkah wish list included two body-care items: raspberry truffle lip gloss from Origins and Sabon vanilla coconut body scrub. The lip gloss, though organic and cruelty-free, doesn't really qualify as an ecofrugal gift, since at $15 a tube, it's definitely a splurge item. However, shortly after she sent me her gift list, I spotted a recipe for a "vanilla apricot sugar scrub" in the Green American's holiday issue, and it said that it would also work with a different carrier oil—such as coconut—in place of the apricot kernel oil. At first I thought this recipe was going to prove too pricey, since all the coconut oil sold at the Whole Earth Center turned out to be really expensive. However, on a trip to Trader Joe's, we found a 16-ounce jar of organic virgin coconut oil (the unrefined kind, with a really strong coconut fragrance) for only $5.99. So the total cost of my homemade, 100 percent organic body scrub was only a couple of bucks. My sister's reaction when she took off the lid for a sniff was, "Whoa!" (I told her that if it didn't work well as a cleanser, she could always throw in some eggs, flour, and baking powder and it should make a pretty good cake.)

My gift to my aunt and uncle in Florida was a window box garden from Earth Easy. I discovered this item when it was featured in a giveaway on the UrbanSherp website, and I thought it looked like the perfect gift for apartment dwellers who like to garden. Although it wasn't an extra-special bargain, I think it deserves to be counted as an ecofrugal gift because it helps the recipient lead a more sustainable life by growing food at home. (Also, with its organic seeds, recycled steel planter, and bamboo lid, its eco-credentials are impeccable.) This was one of the most successful gifts we gave: my aunt said she "absolutely loved" it and had been looking for ways to grow more food in their condo. Score!

Two of the gifts Brian received were inspired by our recent experience in Superstorm Sandy. Compared to many others in New Jersey, we got off pretty easy, with a power outage of less than two full days—but the experience got us thinking about ways to be better prepared for future storms, which we can probably expect to hit harder as the earth gets warmer. So I gave him a battery-powered lantern, which can run for many hours (days, on the lowest setting) on a single set of batteries thanks to its super-efficient LED bulbs. His folks got him a little radio that can be recharged with either a hand crank or a built-in solar panel (though the manual admits that it takes a really long time). Decked out in a butch camouflage pattern, it picks up all the weather stations and can double as a flashlight and a cell phone charger. And I must admit, while I've never considered myself the survivalist type, knowing that we can go off the grid indefinitely and not lose contact with the outside world feels very liberating.

You've already heard about my fabulous secondhand sweater and my electric blanket throw, but I also received a couple of other ecofrugal goodies from Brian: two volumes of cryptic crosswords, my favorite electricity-free diversion. These kept me busy through the quiet parts of our family vacation (when all the kids had gone off to their other grandparents' houses for a second round of Christmas), and I still have lots left to enjoy in the new year.

Lastly, one of our Hanukkah presents from my mom was this little wall plaque, which—though it may not be exactly ecofrugal in itself—definitely celebrates the ecofrugal way of life.

And that's it for our 2012 green gift roundup. Stay tuned for coverage of the first really big ecofrugal holiday of the year, Thrift Week, coming up in just a couple of weeks. (Hmm, I guess I'd better decide what I'm writing about this year....)


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